The Strawberry Classic Cruise-In will celebrate its 20th anniversary in Plant City this weekend.
In April 1997, J. Myrle Henry was worried about rain.
It was the day of the inaugural Strawberry Car Show and Cruise, an initiative that Henry and fellow merchants in Historic Downtown Plant City had started as a way to revitalize the downtown district.
The outdoor car show was scheduled for the afternoon. But that morning, Henry had gotten a call from Plant City Courier reporter Dave Nicholson.
The weather forecast, Nicholson told him, wasn’t good.
At the corner of Collins and Drane streets, Henry watched the clouds, willing the sun to come out. The car show committee had been working on the event for six months.
As the day shifted from morning to afternoon, the clouds dispersed. As they did, residents began to pour into Historic Downtown for the show, bringing 160 classic cars with them.
On Saturday, April 15, the event — since renamed the Strawberry Classic Cruise-In — will celebrate its 20th year in Plant City.
Henry first developed the idea for the cruise-in after reading about a similar event in LION Magazine, the official publication for Lions Club International.
Henry, then the owner of three Plant City pharmacies, pitched the idea to fellow downtown merchants.
“The Downtown Business and Merchants Association had been formed,” Henry said. “The focus of the meeting was what we can do to revive downtown Plant City. I had just read about a car show up north, and they thought it was a great idea.”
Soon after, the first car show committee was formed. Besides Henry, members included city leaders at the time, including City Commissioner Marsha Passmore, and City Manger Nettie Mae Draughn. Rodger Patton, who served as the Plant City police officer in downtown, and many car aficionados were also part of the original committee.
“The people were hungry for it,” Henry said. “They wanted to do it every week.”
At the time, the show was scheduled to be an annual event. Due to the success of the first show, committee members revamped their thought process.
“From then on, we decided it would be every month,” Henry said. “Rain or shine.”
Since then, the Strawberry Classic Cruise-In has been held on the third Saturday of every month in Historic Downtown. On average, the show garners anywhere from 400 to 600 cars.
In 2002, the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce brought on the show as one of its official events.
Since the first show 20 years ago, the event has become a regular destination for both Plant City residents and car lovers in surrounding
For over 30 years, Bill Goodwill has served as an event director for GoodGuys Rod and Custom Association. The
Strawberry Classic Cruise-In is one of his favorite events.
“Plant City has the right recipe,” Goodwill said. “The event’s free, it’s in a good location. They’re trying to do the right thing. I’m semi-retired now, but I want to see this work and I want to see it grow. This is one of the best. It’s a community working together.”
The anniversary show is one of the first for Walden Lake Car Wash owner Frank Cummings. He took over as chairman for the event three months ago.
“I was going to be a monthly sponsor, but found out that they needed a chairman,” he said. “I want to keep it going. We want to get the event self-sufficient again.”
Walden Lake Car Wash, along with Jarrett-Scott Ford, Stingray Chevrolet and GoodGuys, will be giving out awards during the 20th anniversary event. The awards will be handed out by the Florida Strawberry Festival Queen’s Court at 6 p.m.
As always, the show will be family-friendly with activities for kids. The event will include a bounce house, face painting and food vendors.
Henry hopes the event will continue for years to come — especially with support from the community.
“We’re seeking more involvement,” he said. “The Chamber wants to see growth as well.”
The 20th Anniversary Strawberry Classic Cruise-In will kick off at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 15, at the Union Station Depot in Historic Downtown, 102 N. Palmer St.
Contact Emily Topper at [email protected].